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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Mar 1972

Vol. 259 No. 11

Committee on Finance. - Vote 47: Social Welfare.

I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £9,988,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1972, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Social Welfare, for certain services administered by that Office, for payments to the Social Insurance Fund, and for sundry grants.

When the Estimate for my Department was before the House in November last, I explained that a Supplementary Estimate would be required later in the year to meet the cost of the 1971 Budget increases. This Supplementary Estimate makes provision accordingly, and, of course, it provides also for any additional amounts required by reason of upward trends in expenditure under different subheads. The additional amount required is £9,988,000 which brings the total Exchequer expenditure on social security services in the current financial year to almost £85½ million. An additional amount of £282,000 is required under the heading "Administration". This covers salary increases, higher travelling and incidental expenses and an increase in the payments to medical certifiers. Under Subhead E—payment to the Social Insurance Fund—almost £5 million extra is required. Under this subhead is provided the amount which the Exchequer contributes to the social insurance services, that is, the difference between the cost of the benefits and the amount received by way of contributions from employers and employees and from certain other sources. Expenditure of the fund is now expected to be £6,589,000 more than the original Estimate, but this is offset to the extent of £2,127,000 by additional income mainly due to the increased rates of contribution operative from the 4th October, 1971. An additional sum of £451,000 has also to be provided by the Exchequer to make good an underdraw of that amount in 1970-71.

The principal increases in expenditure on the insurance services arose in respect of disability and unemployment benefit. In the case of disability benefit the excess of £8,601,000 is primarily due to the fact that the transfer from that benefit to invalidity and retirement pensions was lower than expected. As a consequence substantial savings arise on invalidity and retirement pensions. Taking the three schemes together the net excess comes to £1,817,000. This is attributable to such factors as increased rates of benefit and higher numbers of claims as a result of the influenza epidemic since last Christmas. In the case of unemployment benefit the expected increase of £3,106,000 over the original estimate arises similarly from increased rates and increased numbers claiming benefit.

On the social assistance side, a total additional amount of £4,992,000 is required. Of this, almost £3 million is in respect of unemployment assistance, the contributing causes being the increased numbers of claimants. The increase of £898,000 on Subhead K— Miscellaneous Grants and Allowances —is spread over seven of the nine subdivisions, the major proportion relating to free travel and deserted wives' allowances. The extra requirement under the free travel scheme is due to greater use of the scheme and an increase in fares during the year. The original estimate of the cost of the deserted wives' allowances was prepared before there was any experience of the working of the scheme, and the numbers qualifying have been higher than expected. The increases in respect of old age and widows' non-contributory pensions are directly attributable to the increased rates of payment operative from August last, while in the case of children's allowances there has been an upward trend in the number of claims as compared with the original estimate.

These are the main features of this Supplementary Estimate. As I have explained on previous occasions, we cannot avoid asking the House to vote additional money for social welfare since the original estimate obviously could not make provision for increases and improvements decided on at Budget time. I am confident that Deputies will be glad to support the provision of the extra amount required.

I, too, share the Minister's wish as expressed in the last sentence of his rather short statement. I am confident that Deputies will support gladly the provision of this extra money. However, it is my opinion that we are not spending nearly enough money on social welfare. Speaking on another Supplementary Estimate here some months ago, I appealed to the Minister and to the Government to have greater sympathy for those unfortunate people in our society who must depend entirely on social welfare. As one who has been dealing with the public for many years, I am convinced that the social welfare services we are providing are not nearly adequate to meet the needs of recipients and their dependants.

We read much these days of what membership of the EEC will mean for us, but I have not had anything from the Minister for Social Welfare as to what Government policy will be in respect of social welfare after we join the Community. So far as I know, neither the Minister nor his Parliamentary Secretary nor any senior official from the Department has ever gone to Brussels to study the position in regard to social welfare.

The Deputy will appreciate that we are dealing with the Supplementary Estimate in respect of the period up to the 31st March. Future policy is not involved.

I am sure you will agree and that the Minister will agree also that this is a very important matter. We are being asked to vote almost £10 million extra for social welfare. The Minister should have gone to Brussels to ascertain the position relating to the European Social Welfare Fund. I have read the different pamphlets that were distributed to Deputies but there has been nothing in them relating to social welfare. Before being asked to vote in the referendum, the people should be told what can be expected in terms of social welfare benefits after we join.

Again, the Deputy is getting on to future policy.

It is very relevant. I want the Minister to tell us whether social welfare recipients will be better off within the EEC. Our spending on social welfare, as a percentage of our national wealth, is smaller than that of any of the EEC countries. Therefore, while I am glad to support the granting of this £9,900,000 extra to social welfare, I believe the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Government have lost the confidence of the ordinary people. Could you blame them when the Minister who sits across from me now decided, while the Dáil was in recess last summer, to take the dole from people who were depending on it?

As I said before, I believe that pay related social welfare benefits should be introduced. Before the Minister for Social Welfare arrived the Minister for Health was talking about how the Health services should be financed. He paid tribute to the Minister for Social Welfare in the belief that he intends to introduce some relief in this regard. I am happy about this because as spokesman for social welfare over the past few years I have constantly advocated that something like this should be done.

The Minister for Health expressed annoyance ten minutes ago that it should be suggested that our services are behind those of Northern Ireland. If we are anxious about the unification of the country we have a serious duty here in Leinster House to make vast improvements in our health and social welfare services. You may tell me, Sir, that this has nothing to do with the Estimate before us, but it is of such great importance that I think it should be restated here, and I shall leave it at that.

An advisory bureau should be set up to give guidance and advice to those who are unfortunate enough to have to depend on social welfare services. Deputies here will agree with me that one of the greatest annoyances to a public representative is to have social welfare recipients telling him that they applied three or four weeks previously for what they are entitled to and did not receive benefit. It might be no harm to say here that the setting up of this bureau was proposed five or six years ago as part of Fine Gael policy. It is not because it is part of Fine Gael policy that I believe it is right, but from meeting people I know there is a greater demand for it now than ever before.

While putting forward that proposal let me say that the officers of the Department of Social Welfare, from the highest to the lowest, do everything they can to expedite the claims of these people. From dealing with them on the phone and otherwise I must pay tribute to their courtesy and efficiency. I honestly believe that it is not because I am the shadow spokesman for social welfare that they are courteous to me but the same would be the case with any public representative or any other person seeking their advice. Nevertheless, this advisory bureau would enable not only the officials of the Department but also the Minister and everyone else in this House to have the problems dealt with more quickly than they can be dealt with now.

Does the Minister realise that, although we are providing £10 million extra to provide extra benefit for social welfare recipients, with the continual fall in the value of money, it does not mean that these people will be any better off financially than they were last week? That is another good reason why I advocate, on behalf of my party, that the social welfare code should be revised and brought up to date, so that it will compare more favourably with the social welfare code in the EEC countries.

I hope that before the Budget the Minister will consult with the Minister for Finance and that he will do better this time. I would appeal to him, in heaven's name, to think of the social welfare people, the widows and the other people who constitute the less fortunate section of our community.

Before I call on Deputy O'Connell the Chair wishes to point out that the Supplementary Estimate discussion is confined to the amounts which are being provided and to the headings under which they are being provided.

Whether it is a Supplementary Estimate or not, we do not often get opportunities to discuss our social services. We are privileged, perhaps, once a year to dwell at length on them. We are certainly not afforded many facilities during Parliamentary Question Time to question the Minister and to get positive answers from him on some of the urgent problems of social welfare that concern us and which we meet in everyday life. I believe our social welfare services are the worst in Europe. At a time when we are talking about the unification of our country—and I raised this matter in the House before—I asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his Department has examined how our social services could be put on a par with those in Northern Ireland. We are at a very important time in our country's history and the question of bringing in an Estimate to put our social services on a par with those in Northern Ireland should engage the attention of the Department of Social Welfare because I go there every two weeks and I talk to the people about re-unification; they tell me our social services are deplorable.

The Chair does not want to interrupt the Deputy again, but this Supplementary Estimate is introduced to provide certain moneys necessary to meet the Vote up to 31st March and the debate, therefore, is confined to the headings in the Supplementary Estimate.

Surely I can mention this under these headings. Our social services are deplorable. This is known to the people in Northern Ireland and known to those who might be tempted to consider joining us. This aspect should be urgently investigated by the Minister.

It is very unfair to confine the debate. It is very unfair to the Minister to produce this single sheet and confine us to the headings mentioned. It is all very vague and ambiguous. I mention this. I am entitled to comment. I have not received that other document yet.

It was circulated. This was sent to Deputies.

I have not got it. This came up at short notice and I would appreciate a copy of the document.

A Token Estimate allows a Deputy to range over general topics but a Supplementary Estimate confines a Deputy to the headings in the Supplementary Estimate.

Debate is stifled once more and we are prevented from speaking. My colleague, Deputy Barry, spoke on this and I think I should be permitted to do likewise.

The Chair pointed out to Deputy Barry that this was not a Token Estimate. It is a Supplementary Estimate. Its purpose is to provide moneys up to 31st March and Deputies may speak only on the headings in that Supplementary Estimate.

I accept your ruling without reservation. With regard to unemployment assistance, over 20 per cent of our people are living at or below poverty level. This figure was obtained as a result of an investigation by Mr. Ó Cinnéide of the Institute of Public Administration and, according to his calculation, this represents some 500,000 people. This is a shocking indictment of the present Government. It is scandalous that so many people should be living in this day and age in such poverty. The Minister has not made any really constructive effort to improve our social services.

On the question of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance, a single man dependent on unemployment assistance, living with his family, receives the princely sum of 30p or 40p per week because the incomes of the rest of the family are taken into consideration. If he wants to qualify for £3 per week he must move out. I defy anyone with £3 per week unemployment assistance to get accommodation in this city or anywhere else. It is an absolute disgrace that we should tolerate such a system. I brought a specific case to the Minister's attention. I doubt if the Minister could argue that the system is adequate or that it is a system of which the Government can be proud. The record of the present Government where social services are concerned is a disgrace. They should be ashamed of it.

Widows are also expected to live in deplorable circumstances. Indeed, there has been an organised outcry against the conditions under which they are expected to live. The Minister may say we cannot provide for them all. It is a shocking indictment of our system and our social policy that 5 per cent of the people should own 71 per cent of the wealth of the country. I do not believe the same situation obtains in any other European country. In Northern Ireland, with which we find so much fault, 5 per cent of the people own only 47 per cent of the wealth. Here there is appalling inequity and injustice and we are doing nothing about it. We should do something about it. We could introduce the necessary taxation to ensure a more equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation and better social services for those who need them. No really constructive effort is being made to rectify these shocking social injustices.

I am opposed in principle to means tests but I believe a means test should be introduced in the case of children's allowances. I doubt if anyone would disapprove of such a policy. This would ensure that those who need them most would get better allowances than they are getting at present. Those allowances would, of course, still be below those obtaining in Britain and Northern Ireland. This is an important aspect and one we must consider. By comparison with EEC countries the allowances we offer are ridiculous. If we could apply a means test to ensure an improvement, or devise some way to give the poorer sections of the community greater children's allowances, it might help to overcome the poverty and misery in which so many are living.

On the question of unemployment assistance we might, by making a serious effort to provide more jobs— not just by paying lip service to the idea, making false promises, or producing false figures, or by bringing in fly-by-nights—be able to take the burden off the taxpayers and at the same time offer proper unemployment assistance to those who are unable to obtain jobs. The only way is to provide more genuine jobs so that there would be a much fairer distribution of money.

Non-contributory old age pensions are mentioned here. Again the means test applies. We pay this to people because they are old. In many cases they are senile, they are worried, they do not understand. If their income for any reason improves they get a demand note telling them to return their pension books and nasty letters from the Department. I do not know whether the Minister realises that these letters and demands can have a very upsetting effect on people. They are expected to be in when an official calls and expected to explain everything. These are people who are lonely and depressed and something which we would cast aside as a circular is very important to them. I would ask the Minister to see that a much more flexible system is employed, that we are a little more tolerant and a little more sympathetic towards those people. If they continue to draw the non-contributory old age pension and fail, through forgetfulness or otherwise, to report an improvement in their income we should not intimidate them. We might consider taking the overpayment from them by instalments. I would ask the Minister to look at this because very often the book is taken from them and they expect prosecution because they did not realise that their income had risen above the limit set by the Department.

There is mention here of insured persons' medical certificates. I take it the Minister is referring to the social welfare insurance certificates. Doctors are expected to sign these certificates and to say they have examined the patient. The big complaint of doctors is that they do not examine the patient and cannot, in conscience, say: "I have examined the patient." The Department will not pay for the medical examination and if the doctor signs that certificate he is telling a lie. You cannot expect a patient to go for a certificate every week and expect the doctor to examine him or expect the patient to pay the doctor because medical examination are expensive nowadays. We must clarify this. We must decide what is to be on these certificates. Perhaps it could be: "I have observed this patient." To say: "I have examined this patient" when, in fact, an examination does not take place is putting the doctor in an awkward situation and putting the patient in an embarrassing situation. The wording should be altered. Perhaps also these certificates should be issued at less frequent intervals especially in cases of illness of long duration.

It should be possible for these certificates to be issued without the necessity for examination by the medical referees who are involved in these cases. A medical referee may decide that a patient is fit for work when the family doctor says he is not fit for work. This creates a problem. Once the medical reference says he is fit for work the person ceases to obtain benefit.

There is a clash of opinion between the medical practitioner and the medical referee. Here are two doctors who differ. One is the family doctor, who knows everything about the patient, and the other is the medical referee who, after one examination, decides the patient is fit. In a case like that the patient should continue to receive his social welfare benefit and the case should be submitted to an independent medical doctor. The person should not suffer where a medical referee makes up his mind not knowing all the facts of the case. Very often all the medical facts of a case are not sent to the Department.

Miscellaneous grants and allowances are mentioned and under that we might bring in the question of home assistance. The method of application of home assistance is humiliating and degrading. I think we should abolish the home assistance scheme completely. It does not go any way towards bringing a person above the poverty limit. It is an arbitrary thing. It depends on the officer. I have great regard for the officers; I do not say they are not good people but I do not think they are fully trained as sociologists. I would prefer to see fully trained sociologists who, knowing the circumstances, would be in a better position to help. The scheme should be replaced by an income supplement scheme to make sure that a person's income is brought above poverty level. This system operates satisfactorily in Britain. The stigma of the food voucher is absent. I feel entitled to discuss this, Sir, under miscellaneous grants and allowances. To me, it comes under allowances to local authorities to operate home assistance schemes.

It is not administered by this Department.

The money is provided by this Department.

No, by the Department of Health.

The Department of Social Welfare does not sanction it? May I read from their booklet? I quote:

Home assistance is administered by health boards and local authorities subject to the general direction and control of the Minister for Social Welfare.

Who is he? That is what I want to know. Have we not got a Minister for Social Welfare sitting over there? Could I bring this matter up on housing, agriculture, industry and commerce? On what would I bring it up if not on an Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare? Are we to be completely stifled?

There is nothing in this Supplementary Estimate about assistance.

I would suggest that the Minister should explain subhead K —Miscellaneous Grants and Allowances.

The allocations are set out under K.

Does that not provide for home assistance?

It is not explained.

The sums are allocated. The Deputy might look at the list.

I think I got my point across about home assistance. The method employed is archaic and should be replaced by a modern method so that people may regain their dignity.

Because of the restriction in this debate I shall not continue except to say that I am very critical of the Department for its lack of foresight. The Department should have seen that we should provide proper social services, on a par with those in Britain and Northern Ireland.

(Cavan): This is a Supplementary Estimate to provide £9,988,000 to carry the various services provided for in the subheads outlined in the document which has been circulated, up to the end of March. The Supplementary Estimate covers non-contributory old age pensions, children's allowances, unemployment assistance, widows' and orphans' non-contributory pensions and miscellaneous grants. There is involved in the Supplementary Estimate the benefit given to the weakest sections of the community in the form of non-contributory pensions and unemployment assistance.

I gladly support the voting of this money for this very worthy cause but I am convinced that never in the history of the State was the gap so wide between that section of the community who are existing on social welfare payments and the rest of the community. That gap is wide and it is horrifying.

I know I may be told by the Minister that the services are now better than they were. It is very easy, indeed, for a Minister for Social Welfare to fall into the trap of claiming that a number of years ago the non-contributory old age pensioner got £3 or less and he now gets £4.65. I would ask the Minister to direct his attention to the fact that we are living in the midst of a wild inflation and, in an inflationary atmosphere, the rich appear to get richer and the poor always get very much poorer.

The non-contributory old age pensioner living alone is in receipt of £4.65 per week, if he has no other means. Even if he is in unfurnished lodgings the amount is reduced. Having regard to the purchasing power of money, I am convinced that such a man is worse off than he was a few years ago. In round figures, a pint of stout costs 20 pence, which is one-fifth of £1 or 4/-in old money. That is one example. It may be suggested that it is not necessary for him to drink a pint of stout. He must live and he is entitled to some little luxury. When he goes to purchase the necessaries of life he finds that his £4.65 goes a very short distance.

A person of moderate means would not feel comfortable going out for a night to have a few drinks with some friends with only a £5 note in his pocket. It is generally accepted that a person of moderate means who hands £1 across the counter does not expect to get any change and puts very little weight on the change he does get. This emphasises the great gap between social welfare recipients and other sections of the community. It is very easy for a Minister for Social Welfare to fall into the trap of saying that it is £4.65 as against £3 and that he remembers the time when it was 10/-and the time when a shilling was taken off. That is no argument and it is no answer to the unfortunate person who has to depend on social welfare.

I would appeal to the Government and, indeed, to the taxpayers, the people who provide the money, to do a bit of social thinking and to consent to a fairer distribution of the wealth of the country so that the weakest section of the community may be cushioned against the inflation we are living in and may enjoy some sort of decent standard of living.

We are coming very near the time of the year when rates are struck. In many counties persons living in houses with a valuation of £4 or £5 and even up to £7 and living on social welfare are assesed with rates and are expected to pay rates because of the fact that when the enabling provisions were introduced to allow county councils to exempt persons from rates, the burden had to be borne by the rest of the rate-payers and not by the country as a whole. I ask the Minister, how can a person who is in receipt of £5, or £6 or £7 a week pay up to £30 a year rates? It is immoral to ask him to do so. In my constituency there is no scheme for exempting such persons from rates because the county council did not adopt it. My advice to these people living on that sort of income is not to pay rates and I am not indulging in a campaign to encourage people not to pay rates. I am telling them that they cannot afford to pay rates and they should say that to the rate collector and let the county manager write them off through the hardship clauses at his disposal. However, before the amount is written off the person must endure considerable harassment by the rate collector and an investigation by the county manager.

The same situation does not apply in England. A lady in Dublin gave me a leaflet which set out details of the scheme in operation in Britain. This person was nursing in England and she bought a house in Dublin. Now she is thinking of selling the house and returning to live in England because the rates are a very considerable burden on her. She will be faced with a rate demand of £120 or £130. I realise this may not be relevant on this Estimate but I shall try to relate my remarks to it.

In England those in the lower income group are exempt from rates. The system in that country has regard to the fact that some people cannot pay rates but in this country old age pensioners and those receiving social welfare, people who live on £4.65 per week, are assessed for amounts of £30 per year. They must endure several visits from the rate collector and they are lucky if the county manager regards them as hardship cases and writes off the amount. This system is unjust. Any suggestions made here which will be fair to the underprivileged in our community will have my full support and I shall make no apology to anyone inside or outside this House for advocating and supporting social justice.

With regard to payment of rates we are not administering social justice. This has become apparent in the last few years because people who are in a position to fend for themselves are getting rapid increases in wages and the self-employed and the farming community are making more money. Admittedly, it is not worth very much but a considerable amount of money is circulating among these people. People receiving social welfare benefit find themselves in the middle of a whirlpool of spending at a time when they have not enough for the necessaries of life. In the midst of apparent affluence the poorer sections of the community are barely able to exist.

I speak strongly about this matter but if any words that I say encourage the Minister and the Government to take steps in the next Budget to help the needy section in our society I shall be satisfied. Let the Government earmark a specified item of taxation for the purpose of helping this section and I shall vote for it. Let us not have confusion and smokescreens in the Budget. I do not think any self-respecting Member of the House would vote against an item of taxation whose purpose was to raise money to support those in need. If any Member votes against such taxation he should be ashamed of himself.

I have made the point about the rates exemption scheme in England and I am sure the Department of Social Welfare are aware of this. I have the leaflet regarding this scheme in my possession but I do not have it with me at the moment. I strongly recommend the scheme to the Minister for Social Welfare and I would ask him to use his influence with the Government to have the scheme put into operation here.

I realise that the Department deal with a vast number of people and I know delays are inevitable. Some people can afford to wait and it does not matter to them if they get a cheque for £20 this week or whether they wait another week. However, for a person on unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance it is a different matter. He is not credit-worthy, he will only get what he pays for. If he finds that his cheque does not arrive at the local exchange at a certain time it is a serious matter for him; if he expects to get it by post and if it does not come on time it is a great disappointment. I would urge the Minister to cut out the delays that occur; in some cases there are delays of three or four weeks.

I heard of a case today where a person was getting benefit under the Occupational Injuries Act and the last payment was made on 24th February. Perhaps there has been a change from benefit under this Act to some other type of benefit but at any rate the person has not received any money. I spoke to a courteous officer on the phone today and I hope the person concerned will receive the arrears due in the post tomorrow. There is only £16 involved and I realise that to many people in this House that amount might not matter. The person concerned in this case is a young girl whose parents are ill and she needs this money urgently. When we are dealing with the weak section of the community we should do our best to help them. I know that delays do not always take place but it would be good if they could be eliminated completely.

I gather that the number of applications received for the deserted wife allowance was greater than had been anticipated. I am glad that the scheme is not being administered very harshly but I think even more sympathetic consideration could be given. Sometimes the women are expected to pursue their legal claims against their husbands and this is not easy to do. In my constituency there was an instance of a couple who married about 30 years ago but I do not think they lived together for more than a couple of days. This scheme came in and the man was still somewhere in the locality. There was a good deal of coming and going before she was accepted as a deserted wife. Fairly and squarely, she was, and the Department did not insist on her taking legal proceedings against the husband because it would have been a wasteful exercise; he had nothing. I urge the Minister to adopt a realistic approach towards deserted wives.

I know of another case where a deserted wife had one child and when she was 48 the child reached the age of 18. The mother had enjoyed the deserted wife's allowance for a few years since it came in but when she reached 48 she lost it and will not again qualify for it until she is 50. This woman had been working as a char in a convent which ran a secondary school but the convent stamps were not accepted as industrial stamps, or whatever they are called, but only as domestic stamps. I do not see why this should have been the case because she was working in a school where a business was carried on and she was engaged in scrubbing floors and tidying up. She was one of the hard cases, I suppose, that do not make good law. She lost the deserted wife's allowance at age 48 and will not qualify for another two years. She did not qualify for unemployment assistance or sickness benefit because her stamps were not regarded as valid.

Recently at Question Time there was a question about a blind widow who got two pensions until she was 70. She had £8.80 until then but when she reached 70 she lost the widow's pension. The old age pension and the blind pension were amalgamated with the result that her pension was reduced to £4.40. That is another of these hard luck cases which I think the Minister should consider. I know these things cannot be all cleared up in a day but if we could direct ourselves to the proper type of thinking towards the weaker section of the community we would be doing a good job.

There are two types of employment exchanges in the country, the established social welfare office staffed by full-time, established civil servants and the other type of office run on a part-time basis by contractors, I think they are called. They are untrained people appointed on a political basis. There are many of them in every county. I think these offices should be manned by civil servants. I am only saying that in passing. I really stood up to express a point of view that I hold and which I believe the people would accept, that there is an appalling gap between the people for whom we are catering this evening and the better off section of the community. This gap has become more apparent in recent times and must be a source of great distress for these social welfare classes. If I may be pardoned for repeating what I said, I believe it should not be impossible for the Minister to come here and say: "Here is my Budget. I am putting Xp on this and Yp on that and this will be devoted entirely to the social welfare classes." If he does that he will have the support of the House and I believe that nobody will oppose him on it.

There are only a few points I should like to raise on this Supplementary Estimate. We all subscribe to what has been said before from the Opposition benches as regards the inadequacy of social insurance and social assistance. This is a problem we must all face up to in the very near future because I think we must agree that they are in many circumstances inadequate. The circumstances in which they would not be regarded as inadequate, I suppose, would be where there are other people in the family of one drawing social insurance or social assistance who have pretty good incomes.

When we talk of social welfare here we are mainly concerned about the people who live alone or the old age pensioner couple, people on home assistance or unemployment assistance. I subscribe to what Deputy Fitzpatrick said because I have advocated before now the introduction of a special budget for expenditure on social welfare services. As Deputy Fitzpatrick said, we get a package deal in the Budget and I do not think this good enough. People would gladly subscribe by way of taxation on certain commodities to those in the class we are discussing this evening, old age pensioners and people on unemployment benefit or assistance, particularly the assistance group and the others also. By that method there would be less criticism, not necessarily from those in Opposition now but from taxpayers generally. I do not see any reason why we should not have a capital budget, a social welfare budget and a public works budget so that money would be known to be devoted to certain types of relief or assistance.

A peculiar thing about social welfare generally in respect of social assistance—and we have carried this on for quite a long time—is that the only real means test is applied to poor people. There is not a means test to any great extent in regard to building a house or getting a grant, whether in agriculture or industry, but when one looks for £4 or £5 from the State one must undergo a very strict means test. This should concern all of us, especially because of the severity with which it is, and must be, applied according to Acts passed by not only this but other Parliaments here at various times.

I have raised with the Minister on other occasions the question of home assistance and I want to pursue it further. I thought there was some light in a speech made by the Minister during the past 12 months when he intimated that he was considering the establishment of a scheme of national assistance. Let me say for about the fortieth time that if we are to depend on the ratepayers to look after poor people who are not eligible for welfare benefit or assistance, that is a very thin dependence and we can all cite very many examples of it. I know of a young chap who was self-employed during the past year and now that he is out of employment all he can get is £3.50 per week in home assistance for himself and his wife, and I think, one child. Out of that he pays £1.50 per week in rent so that he is expected to live on £2 per week. The regional health board will not give him any more because he is in receipt of unemployment assistance.

I know of a woman who has five illegitimate children and all she gets is £5 per week from the local authority. There are many other such cases with which we are all familiar. The raising of money for home assistance by the representatives of the ratepayers in the various areas is not very high on the priority list. The Minister would be doing a service to these people who do not qualify for ordinary benefits of the Department of Social Welfare if he introduced a scheme of national assistance. I would not ask that at first such a scheme would be put entirely on the backs of the taxpayers but I would expect a contribution that would be phased out for the health boards who now administer the home assistance Acts. I do not wish to pursue that matter in any great detail now but I think the Minister suggested in recent times that he was considering such action. He will have my support if he does so and he will have the appreciation of the thousands of unfortunate people who must exist on the miserable amounts being given to them by way of home assistance.

There are regional health boards who adhere to a maximum figure of £5 per week regardless of how many children or dependants a recipient might have. This is all that the various councillors have allowed in fixing the estimates and in striking the rates.

Having been in a position similar to the Minister's at one stage, I know that he must depend on the generosity of the Minister for Finance in obtaining extra money but there are many small things that could be done which would not involve a great deal of expense. These are matters that annoy many people and matters that are not understood. Regarding the means test for unemployment assistance, there is no means test for the man who works for a weekly wage, for example, the man who has not sufficient stamps to qualify for unemployment benefit but there are, perhaps, thousands of people all over the country who, in an effort to get some income for themselves, become self-employed. In my home town there are those who collect mussels which they sell to the local factory but when they have discontinued that and apply for unemployment assistance, the money earned for the previous year is assessed as means. This is a scandalous situation. If they had been in insurable employment and had earned even £1,600 during the year, there would be no means test applied, whereas the man who tries to earn an income and occupy himself by cleaning windows or by fishing in particular, finds that a means test is applied strictly to him. One year elapses before there is any revision. I have experienced two cases of this. One concerned a woman who is in receipt of a non-contributory widows' and orphans' pension. She worked a few hours per week as a charwoman but the investigation officer went to each of the places where she had worked and ascertained how much she had received in payment. Her pension was reduced and the unfortunate woman had to endure 12 months from the time she last worked as a char in order that she might qualify for the full amount of the non-contributory widows' and orphans' pension. If the Department wish to have details of that particular case, I can supply them. I can give the details also in respect of the man who is now receiving £3.50 per week in unemployment assistance and who is refused any assistance by the local authority that administer home assistance.

There are long delays in deciding on appeals against the disallowing of sickness benefit. I know it is not possible to have medical referees in every town or village every day of the week but while a person is waiting for the result of an appeal, his benefit is cut off entirely. It is difficult for such a man to understand why he is cut off for benefit by a doctor of the Department while at the same time his own doctor says he is incapable of work. If the person involved is a single man, he will get no money from anybody and if he is married, he must go to the health board who will give him a miserable few pounds. A person should be paid until such time as a decision has been reached. These people are very annoyed to discover, if their appeal is allowed, that what they received from the home assistance authorities is deducted from any arrears they might be paid. A man should be deemed to be incapable of work until such time as a decision has been reached and in the intervening period he should be paid.

I subscribe to what Deputy O'Connell said regarding children's allowances. I am aware that in certain cases children's allowances are subject to assessment for income tax under some of the Finance Acts. I am not a rich man but I must confess that I have experienced some guilt in receiving allowances for two or three children while knowing that there were other people who deserved it much more. It is common knowledge that in respect of thousands of children throughout the country, the payment of these allowances is not any real aid. In many cases where there may be as many as seven children the allowances are deposited in the Post Office or in a bank. This indicates to me that the money is not necessary in such cases. I do not know how a means test could be applied in respect of children's allowances. Perhaps it could be applied on the basis of the amount of income tax paid or by some other standard but let us try to device some scheme whereby, apart from income tax being paid on children's allowances, we could give more to the poor families and particularly to those people who have big families.

I should like to ask the Minister in respect of subheads E and I what amount of the money we are being asked to vote is attributable directly to the big increase in unemployment which ranged from 6,000 to 7,000 during this winter as compared with last winter. The taxpayers must pay more because of the policy or the lack of policy on the part of the Government in the provision of industry and in the creation of new jobs.

We have not heard about the unemployment period order, the order that nearly brought down the Government in April last year. We all remember the furore here in the House about the order that the Minister signed or did not sign or did not know what he was signing, and the attitude of Deputy Chub O'Connor, Deputy Des Foley and Deputy Joe Lenehan, who resigned because of this order. Are we or are we not going to have a repeat of the employment period order this year? The Minister must now realise that apart from the political support that he may lose in a debate on that order, it has been absolutely unfair to suggest that any single man under 50 should not get any form of assistance, meaning that there is plenty of work in the country.

There is no such work in the rural areas. I do not have to expand on that. All I need say is that with the introduction of machinery, work in the rural areas is declining year after year. It would be grossly unfair if the Government reintroduced this employment period order, particularly at a time when there are so many unemployed and, as I have said, in view of the fact that there is no work for people in the rural areas and, again, having regard to the figures for unemployment and redundancy in the cities and towns, with no prospect of employment there.

Therefore, I would ask the Minister to allay the fears of those people who will be affected by making an announcement now. As far as I can remember the order was signed during the recess last year. If it is going to be done, let us hear about it now; let the order be placed before the Dáil so that those of us on this side of the House and those in the Fianna Fáil Party who oppose it would have an opportunity of debating it and making a decision on it before the House rises for Easter.

I shall not delay the House very long. I wish to say a few words on this very important Estimate, particularly as I come from a constituency in the west of Ireland, Sligo/Leitrim, where so many people live on small farms, where many people who are anxious to get employment cannot get it, and where so many people have been laid off work. Five factories have closed, one at Dowla and I do not think I exaggerate when I say about four have closed one after the other in Sligo town. I welcome this increase for which the Minister is asking. It will go into the homes of people who require it urgently.

When any Member of this House makes an urgent appeal to the Department about a particular case, it should be looked into without delay. I had one such case before Christmas, a case in which my good friend sought assistance, having a wife in hospital who had lost a baby and having three children for whom he had to provide, and living at home with only the four bare walls of the house.

I put all these facts to the Department, and the Department used rigidly the report they had on his income during the year. We all handle much bigger money than these people who have to keep a car in order to travel a journey of ten miles to earn a few pounds. This man's case has not yet been decided. He was on the phone to the local authority and, fortunately, they have come to the rescue. He will now get £5 per week and he is able to go out when his children are at school and supplement that by earning another few pounds. Cases like that should be dealt with without this long, unexplained delay. The only answer I could get from the Department was that the case was being dealt with. I was on the phone several times about it and I wrote every time this man approached me. I even rang up the Department from home. I shall give the facts of this case to the Minister, and I hope he will take a particular interest in it.

Other Deputies have already mentioned the case of widows who, having reared their families and having reached the age of 70 years, discover, perhaps, due to the valuation on the farm, that instead of continuing to receive the equivalent of the widow's pension the amount may be reduced by £2. I realise it may be due to the valuation and that the stock may have something to do with it. However, I am convinced that the Department's method of calculating the profits from, let us say, four cows and four calves can sometimes result in hardship. In my part of the country the return on a farm of that sort is very small. They send their milk to the creamery and get supplies from the creamery and by the time their expenses are deducted there is practically nothing left out of the cheque, and the people are depending on the price to be got for the few calves. I believe the Department overestimate the profits that are made on this type of farm. Only the other night I had a constituent severely crippled with arthritis and, because he had four cows and four calves, he was deprived of benefit.

There is then this delay in the payment of benefit. If there is any query there is delay. If there is an appeal there is another delay. That delay can extend to four or six months. Payment should be speeded up. The Minister is amply provided with staff. I must say his staff are very courteous but there would seem to be no real excuse for these lengthy delays.

A small businessman or a small farmer may assign his property to a son. The assignor will get no old age pension until the assignment is completed. This may take as long as 12 months. He has handed over his property and he has now nothing on which to live. I would ask the Minister to expedite payment of the pension in such cases. I have known many people anxiously waiting for payment. When one calls to the Department one is told the applicants will have to wait until everything is all right.

The Minister will have to measure out this £10 million very carefully. There will certainly be nothing to spare. We are coming to Budget time and, according to reports in the newspapers, social welfare recipients will get an increase. I hope old age pensioners will get a substantial increase. In my part of the country we have a great many small farmers dependent on unemployment assistance. Some are critical of unemployment assistance but, if it were not for unemployment assistance, these people could not carry on. I am sure the Minister appreciates how important this benefit is. If it were not there many more homes would be closed.

Recently we had two young people from Dublin colleges making a survey in my part of the country. They said they could not understand how the farming community existed on such small farms. I told them that some benefit of some kind was going into every home and that, if it were not for that, these people would have to close their houses and go. Today, a hundred-weight of coal costs £1. Rent has to be paid. Food has to be bought. In the light of all this, £4.50 or £5 a week is a very meagre allowance indeed.

To give the Minister some idea of what the unemployment is like in my area, we have a recently opened factory there, Snia, outside Sligo. There are well over 1,000 people on the waiting list for employment in that factory.

It is important that the Minister should ask for extra money and when the next Budget comes around he may rest assured that he will have the wholehearted support of every Deputy in this House if he can provide a generous allowance for recipients of social welfare benefits. I can tell him sincerely that if it were not for these benefits many homes in my part of the country would be closed.

I should like to welcome this Supplementary Estimate. I do not think anybody on this side of the House would disagree with the sentiments expressed from the opposite benches. Everybody welcomes extra money for the Department of Social Welfare to improve the standard of living of those in receipt of social benefits. The Minister has availed of every opportunity to try to improve benefits such as old age pensions, disability benefit and unemployment benefit. The Government, down through the years, have made considerable efforts to provide the necessary money for the various social welfare services.

On this Supplementary Estimate we are confined to a very narrow field but I want to support what was said about the case of a person drawing disability benefit who comes into dispute with the medical referee. I believe such a person should be paid benefit until finality is reached in his case. The same should apply to unemployment benefit because very often an employee is wrongly dismissed and after his case has been investigated he is paid by the Department. The Minister has always adopted a very sympathetic approach to such matters. Nevertheless, there can be hardship involved and it could very easily be the cause of hunger in a home.

I see that an additional amount of £282,000 is required under the heading of administration. The Minister should have a look at the whole structure of administration. I should not like to advocate that additional personnel should be brought into the Department. That would cost money, money which could be very beneficial to the recipients of social welfare benefits. However, I believe there should be an overhaul to bring about more efficiency in the administration of the various services. Every Deputy will agree that there is a huge volume of work in the Minister's Department and they are to be complimented on their efficiency but nevertheless I believe there could be greater efficiency in administration.

There will be other occasions on which we can discuss the Minister's Department in more detail but I want to say that I know from my personal contacts with the Minister that he is doing everything in his power to find the necessary money to improve the various services. I feel I should stand up here tonight and say this of him lest anybody should think, because there was some misunderstanding about the dole, that the Minister did anything to cause hardship to people drawing the dole.

I believe the Minister should have a look at the position where a dispute arises between his Department and a person in receipt of unemployment benefit. Payment should continue to be made until the dispute has ended.

Non-contributory old age pension books are withdrawn and can be held for some time. This service could be improved at no extra cost. It is bad to see an old age pensioner waiting three or four weeks for payment. Payment should be made to the person until the book is returned and then whatever overpayment has been made could be deducted. There would not even be extra administration costs involved. This would help to avoid hardship and that is the important thing where the administration of the social services is concerned.

I have had complaints from various people in my constituency, particularly recipients of old age pensions, unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit. When an old age pensioner, particularly in a town, owns a large building, the business in which is completely closed down, the valuation on the building may be £14 or £15. It is dishonest to assess the valuation of that building as income. Where hardship cases of this kind arise the valuation of buildings should not be assessed because it is not income. This is happening throughout the country. There is something else which is dishonest and which happens particularly in the west of Ireland. You may find a mother or father who is not prepared to sign over the place to a son at an early age. It would facilitate all concerned if a will could be accepted under which the holding was bequeathed to the son of the applicant for old age pension. It is a difficult matter for a parent to assign a holding to a son of 18 or 19 years of age. Hardship is involved in this matter.

In my constituency and in the west of Ireland generally, unemployment assistance is of great help to the small farmer. At least one-fourth of those drawing unemployment assistance would have had to emigrate if this assistance were not available to them. A tragic decision was taken last year by the Government that single men would not be eligible for this form of assistance. If the Government had wanted to discontinue unemployment assistance, they should have ensured that every man then drawing unemployment assistance would be provided with work for three days a week and would be paid at the rate of £4 a day. The work that would be carried out on this basis would have the effect of relieving ratepayers and Central Government grants could have been reduced. Some Government will have to tackle this problem. Any able-bodied man who is drawing home assistance should get three days work per week.

One-half of the roads in County Mayo are untarred. There are drainage schemes on which people could be employed. Unemployment assistance should be given to those who work three days a week but it is absolutely essential that the man should be paid well for his work. A small farmer in the west of Ireland drawing unemployment assistance and getting £12 a week could manage to live on his small farm and would be encouraged to stay there.

There are certain jealous persons who make reports that their neighbour is drawing home assistance or social welfare benefit. They make these complaints anonymously. This entails a heavy burden of extra work for social welfare officers who have to investigate the complaints. The Minister should instruct social welfare officers and the labour exchanges that complaints made anonymously should not be investigated.

With regard to the allowance for a female relative who is looking after an elderly person, there are several cases where the daughter-in-law who is caring for her husband's parent, who otherwise would be in hospital, is deprived of the allowance on the basis that she is maintained by her husband. The husband may have only five or six acres of land. A neighbour of mine applied for the allowance in respect of a daughter-in-law whose care of the parent involves taking her out of bed ten times a day. She cannot get a penny because she is supposed to be maintained by her husband. That regulation should be amended.

A person who has not 78 stamps in a period of three years has his case automatically investigated by the social welfare officer. If the social welfare officer assesses that the person earned more than 50p a day, the person automatically loses unemployment benefit. This is happening widely in my constituency. Where there is mass unemployment, where a man cannot get work for more than 15 weeks in the year, it is impossible to accumulate 78 stamps over a period of three years. I suggest that the 50p should be raised to £1. I do not mind where the money is obtained or what government are in power. If my party were in power I would insist that the earnings allowable should be increased to £1. This would allow people to benefit.

Having regard to the social welfare system in operation in Northern Ireland and in Britain as compared with the system in operation here do we seriously expect that the people across the Border will unite with us unless we have the same standards? Do we not know that that will not happen? On entry into the Common Market, our social welfare services will have to be brought up to European standards. This is a matter that should be dealt with now. It is niggardly to deprive a man of unemployment assistance because he earns 50p a day. That is the regulation, which must be enforced by the social welfare officer. The matter is in the hands of the Minister. I would ask him to take a note of the points that I have made. These are problems and hardship is caused and that was the reason I wished to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister.

Everyone in the House will be pleased to see that social welfare benefits are increased and in that connection we welcome the Supplementary Estimate, even though we realise that it will affect taxation.

I am glad of this opportunity to deal with a few points with regard to administration of the social welfare code. By and large, the attitude of the Department is humane but I realise that in having to administer such a large amount of money there must be regulations and that in the administration of these regulations anomalies will arise which cause hardship. Hardship may not arise to a tremendous degree in individual cases but it arises in a series of cases. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to what I consider are anomalies which may not have been intended but are an inevitable consequence of the fact that social welfare administration is hidebound by regulations.

The first anomaly to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention is the plight of domestic workers in relation to unemployment benefit. The cost of the stamp for the domestic worker is somewhat less than that for other female workers; it is £1.50 per week as against the ordinary rate of £1.91. A woman working in agriculture pays £1.40 but we will leave that aside for the moment.

In the summary of the booklet on social services issued by the Department, there is a footnote on page 13 which states that these rates—the rates for persons employed mainly in domestic service—include over for unemployment benefit. This footnote is misleading because I understand the regulations provide that a person in domestic employment who becomes unemployed cannot qualify for unemployment benefit unless the person has been engaged for ten years in domestic work in insurable employment. In addition she must have at least two years contributions. This is discrimination against one particular category of worker. I fail to see how it can be justified, but I presume that as the regulation exists at some stage there must have been a theoretical basis for this discrimination. One would like to see it explained, if for no other reason than for arguing the justification.

This particular category of employment is one that has had a certain imputation about it that made it an undesirable occupation, an occupation to which girls were not attracted. I do not think the Department are just in their attitude to these people. If a person in domestic employment becomes unemployed she is entitled to benefit as much as any other worker. The regulations which requires ten years employment and two years contributions is unjust.

I am led to believe that one reason for this discrimination is that there is no such thing as unavailability of work for persons in this category. That may have been the situation in Victorian times but at the moment because wages in domestic employment are beginning to be comparable with wages paid to female workers in other sectors, because of the wages they command, jobs are not as plentiful as they were in the dim and bad old days. The competition between this sector and industry is loaded in favour of industry and there can be no question of saying that a person could not be unemployed. That argument does not hold water in 1972 and I would ask the Minister to remove this discrimination.

When married women apply for unemployment benefit, invariably they are refused and the reason given is that they do not make themselves available for work. If a female worker marries and, perhaps, changes residence and thereby changes jobs, or if she has to leave her pre-marriage job and cannot get another job in another part of the country, the Department consider she is not available for work and refuse her benefit, presumably because she happens to be married.

This is not recognising the realities of the situation. More and more married women, particularly those in the first years of marriage, are anxious to work. If they cannot get work it is because it is not available. When this is the case they should be entitled to the benefits received by other workers. It has been mentioned to me that applicants in this category produced documentary evidence of having tried to obtain work but in spite of this evidence the Department refused to pay benefit.

The next point to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention is the working of the occupational injuries benefits arrangements. When occupational injury claims were taken from the Circuit Court and included as part of the social welfare code it seemed a logical step. It did not seem right that a person who was injured at his place of work should be put to the hazard of litigation. It seemed more reasonable and humane to have these benefits dealt with by the Department of Social Welfare.

In practice, however, what I would term "better" justice was available in the Circuit Court. If a workman under the Workman's Compensation code sustained an injury he proceeded to the Circuit Court and after hearing the evidence the Circuit Court made a finding in relation to incapacity. This finding was based principally on medical evidence but was also based on the workman's evidence——

I do not know if this arises on the Supplementary Estimate. I do not see any subhead in regard to this matter.

With respect, is there not an increase for disablement pensions?

It has nothing to do with it.

The Minister states it does not arise on the Supplementary Estimate. We are limited to the subheads of the Bill.

I understood that in the Minister's speech there was reference to disablement benefits. Would this not come under the section dealing with occupational injury claims in the Department of Social Welfare? However, the point I was trying to make was with regard to administration of this benefit and in order to make the point clear I thought I should indicate the previous practice. What I wished to indicate was that where a person had made a partial recovery the Circuit Court was entitled to make a finding of partial incapacity, which could be treated as total incapacity. There is no such discretion so far as I can see in the Department. The result is that an appeal doctor, if presented with medical evidence which on its face shows that a person has recovered from an injury, has no discretion but to deem that person fit for work. That person may have been suffering from the effects of his injury for anything up to ten or more years and may, in fact, be only fit for light work but, apparently, there is no discretion to treat that capacity for light work as total incapacity. The reality of the situation is that nobody could get light work, which is not available to an agricultural labourer in rural Ireland, who has partially recovered from his injury. This is a serious gap in the administration of occupational injury benefit and is leading to a considerable amount of hardship.

If a person is a long time out of work due to a genuine injury necessitating a very slow and gradual rehabilitation there is no precise date at which he can be said to be fit for work. In my opinion, that person should be treated by the Department, and the Department should have power so to treat him, as being partially incapacitated but unfit for any work. So far as I know, there is no discretion in the Department to make such a finding at the moment. That is something that should be remedied and could be remedied without undue expense and remedied so as to ease the considerable hardship being caused at present. I am sure it is caused unwittingly but it is still being caused and it is important that the Department should be kept informed of anomalies such as this because, as I said at the outset, the regulations are by and large administered with humanity and I imagine there is the will and desire to see that they should continue to be so administered.

The procedure of the examination by medical referees and appeals thereon is something that could be looked at because at present these proceedings can take place without oral hearings and without benefit of submissions on behalf of the injured person. In effect, the hearing can be in secret and while I have no doubt that it is conducted in an entirely bona fide manner, it would add considerably to the confidence of the public and that of contributors to the social welfare code if they felt their case was fully and adequately heard.

I think there are grounds for suggesting that appeals officers should be a body above and beyond and distinct from the other personnel of the Department. They are exercising a semi-judicial function and it does not help one's confidence in a judge if one knows that he is part of the prosecution case, so to speak. I think the status of appeals officers should be considered and, perhaps, they would be made independent of the Department.

The Minister referred to the fact that there was a saving arising on invalidity and retirement pensions. I suggest this is because people are not aware of their entitlement to a retirement pension at the age of 65. This should be publicised more widely. It is an excellent provision and it is wisely drawn in that it does not completely prevent the retired person from continuing in certain types of non-insurable employment. I would almost say the person should be allowed to continue in what would be insurable employment and continue to draw his retirement pension without having the benefit of further contributions except, perhaps, contributions to cover occupational injury benefits. If this could be done and the scheme publicised many more people would avail of it and it would be of considerable social assistance to those in the 65 age bracket who, perhaps, are getting beyond full work but who, because of financial considerations, must continue in full work. If they had the option of slackening off in their work and drawing benefit it would improve their lot considerably. I ask the Minister to arrange more publicity for the entitlement and to consider extending the employment which they may continue to have while drawing a retirement pension.

I was glad, and, indeed, surprised, to see that the demands under the deserted wives' allowances is greater than that estimated. It is sad that this item should have to appear at all but that is the way of the world and until such time as there can be reciprocal arrangements between the courts here and in Britain to enforce orders under the Married Women (Desertion) Act we shall have to continue to find a considerable sum under this heading. I was surprised because the investigating procedure in my experience has been unduly cumbersome and somewhat rigid. I have come across cases where the applicant was refused benefit on the grounds that her husband was within contactable distance, to put it that way. The reality of the situation was that the farther he stayed away from his wife the better it was for her and the children. Where a husband may be in the same town or the same locality but where his conduct has been such that his wife and children have had to leave him, it should clearly be considered a case of descretion. So should a case where he appears every so often or where contact can be made with him. At the moment in these cases very often an application is refused. These are cases that should be covered. Perhaps this is one of the saddest parts of the administration of the social welfare code and the one part where one would not expect levity or facetious interjections.

In regard to the increase in unemployment assistance, contributing causes, according to the Minister's speech, are the increased rates of payment and increased number of claimants. It would be interesting to see a breakdown as to which was the greater factor in the increase, whether the increase in the rate was bigger or whether more people are claiming.

I would guess that it is the latter factor and that we see in this substantial supplementary sum of £3 million the result of our present industrial position. The numbers unemployed are growing to such an extent that we have to budget for an extra £3 million to pay them assistance. One can only hope in that context that the number will not become any larger and that wise and benevolent government will be able to ensure this will not happen. I am apprehensive that if the troubles in Northern Ireland are not settled and our reputation in England does not improve there may be resistance to Irish exports in that country which could have great effects on our economy. While it is not within the scope of the Department of Social Welfare, nevertheless, it behoves the Minister, as the man who has to fill the purse, as a Member of the Government to ensure that whatever the Government can do to see that problem settled once and for all should be done as a matter of the highest urgency.

If unemployment assistance must run at this supplementary level at this time, it is a rather frightening warning sign and if our economy has to be called on to make subventions to this extent towards our unemployed, we could find ourselves in a disastrous situation.

The Minister indicated, too, that part of this extra requirement was because of increases in transport costs. I wonder whether CIE when they are passing these charges to the Department in respect of persons entitled to free travel, charge the Department at the going rate or give them the benefit of such sales reductions as have been in force during the past three months. I would recommend the Minister to make sure that those who were entitled to travel free participated in "The Great Train Robbery" because we do not want to have a situation whereby the Department would be subsidising unwittingly "The Great Train Robbery".

I am glad to have had the opportunity of making these points. We all welcome increases in social welfare payments to the underprivileged and weaker sections of our community. This is what civilisation is all about. It is important that in the administration of these benefits if anomalies or injustices appear, they should be rectified quickly. It is for that reason that I have made these points here this evening.

I welcome the introduction of this Supplementary Estimate and I am sure it will have the support of all sides of the House. When the annual Budget is before the House in April or May increases in social welfare benefits are announced but these increases are not paid to recipients until the following October or November. Apparently it is normal practice for a Supplementary Estimate to be introduced at this time and I intend to make a few brief points in relation to it. Increases on foodstuffs or on beer or on cigarettes become effective as soon as they are announced in the Budget and it is in this regard that an anomaly arises in so far as that increase in social welfare benefits are not paid until some months afterwards. While the amount involved in these increases in prices may not be very great over a period of say, six months, it can mean a lot when a person is on a low income. I do not know what powers the Minister has to remedy this situation but I would hope that he would discuss the matter with the Minister for Finance with a view to eliminating the anomaly.

The first item mentioned in this Estimate relates to salaries, wages and allowances in respect of which an additional £201,000 is required. The staff of the Department come in for much criticism from time to time. Some time ago one of the trade unions made a strong attack on the Department and other people have done so at different times, myself included. One of the greatest causes of these complaints against the Department is the length of delays in dealing with various claims. I understand, of course, that there is a considerable amount of work involved in investigating the various circumstances of any particular case but, at the same time, it is my opinion that much of a delay is unnecessary. I welcome any effort that may be made towards accelerating the work of dealing with inquiries. Long delays are unfair to those waiting for payment of benefits. This may not apply to any great extent where children's allowances are concerned but it is very important where unemployment assistance is concerned. I can only express the hope that there will be an improvement in the situation.

Regarding the reference to medical certificates, I am not sure as to what is meant specifically here. I wish to refer to medical referees, a matter which comes under item D of the Supplementary Estimate. I have known people whose cases went before the medical referee and whose claims were refused. As far as I was aware these people were certainly not fit for work. There should be some appeal against the decision of the medical referee because it would seem to be unfair that some of these cases should be turned down.

Deputy Cooney dealt with the question of deserted wives who were divorced. The Minister will recollect that not very long ago Deputy O'Connell raised this by way of Parliamentary question. I do not know the full facts of such cases, but I understand that if a deserted wife has been divorced from her husband in England and continues to reside in this country she is not eligible for a deserted wife's allowance. The wife may not wish to remarry.

The Deputy will appreciate we are dealing with sums of money which are necessary to meet provisions under various headings up to 31st March next. These are broad matters of policy the Deputy is discussing. While they may be discussed on the main Estimate, they may not be raised on the Supplementary Estimate.

In his opening speech the Minister mentioned the deserted wives' allowance and I believe this would entitle me to bring this matter up.

All the Chair is concerned with is what is contained in the Estimate under the various headings.

Item K refers to Miscellaneous Grants and Allowances and Item No. 9 is Deserted Wives' Allowances. Therefore I believe it would be in order to discuss this matter.

What we are discussing is the extra money that is required under certain headings in the Supplementary Estimate. The broad principles relevant to the Vote were discussed last November, and of course the Deputy will have an opportunity of discussing these principles again on the Estimate.

I believe the point I am making is within the ambit of the Supplementary Estimate, but I do not intend to continue on the point at length. I would just put it to the Minister briefly that if a deserted wife, in the circumstances I have outlined, resides in this country, she may not wish to remarry. In the eyes of many people in the locality she will be considered married. As there would not be many such cases and as hardship can be involved for the people concerned, I would ask the Minister to treat these cases with a certain amount of generosity.

In regard to Item G, non-contributory pensions, Where a person's stamps have run out and where he has not yet reached the age of 70, there is no relief on which he can call other than home assistance. If I am incorrect in this, I would ask the Minister to let me know. The Offaly and Laois County Councils, the local authorities of which I have best knowledge, are quite generous in dealing with people in this group. They may be in poor health and unfit for work, and I would ask the Minister to let me know if there is some specific provision under which they can qualify for an allowance. They should. A country like this should make these people some allowance.

There is no doubt that this money is badly required. Now, when an applicant applies for an old age pension, he or she receives a visit from the pension officer and is recommended on the spot for the maximum pension. That having been done, it is often three or four months before he or she receives the pension book. This is due to the fact that an applicant has to wait until the local pension committee meets. The pension clerk will not call a meeting until he has a number of claims to be decided. I suggest that when a person qualifies, and is recommended by the local social welfare officer, the latter should send the application direct to the Department and there should be no delay in issuing the book.

I had a case in which an applicant applied in December of last year. I spent much time on phone calls locally and here in this House trying to get the local clerk to call a meeting of the pension committee. This woman's husband was in receipt of an old age pension. He did not receive the maximum pension because he owned his own house and, because he did, his pension was cut by 25p. The Minister should do something about this. There should be no delay. There should be no waiting three or four months for a meeting of the local pension committee. It is disgraceful that these unfortunate people should be subjected to this kind of treatment.

In the case to which I referred I called to the Department and I was assured by a young girl there that they would try to send out the book so that the applicant would have it on Friday morning. I told the applicant to call to the post office on Friday morning for her book. On Friday morning, having visited the post office, she called on me to tell me that the book was not there. I rang the Department once more on Friday morning and she received the book in the post office the following morning.

The Minister will have to shake up his Department. If one telephones the Department one gets an assurance but, in my 30 years of dealing with the Department, I can safely say that that assurance is never honoured. Some officials have no understanding whatsoever of the position of these unfortunate people down the country, dependent solely on these pensions and compelled to wait three or four months for their pension books. I would appeal to the Minister to examine the whole structure of old age pensions.

There was a tendency to treat this Supplementary Estimate as if it were the main Estimate. I did not anticipate that such a wide field would be covered and I do not feel myself obliged to reply to all the detailed points raised here. I shall, of course, reply to questions which were directly relevant.

This Supplementary Estimate is essential because of the increases granted in the Budget last year. The Budget came after the Estimate was prepared. From that point of view it is an interesting Supplementary Estimate. It has some interesting features, not the least of which is the increase in the amount paid by way of unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit. Deputies alleged that this was due to increased unemployment and redundancies. Approximately half the amount is due to redundancies and approximately half the amount is due to the increases granted in the Budget. These were substantial increases no matter how Deputies may try to denigrate them. An interesting feature, too, is the fact that this Supplementary Estimate reflects a slowing down or a virtual stoppage of emigration. This is the first time we have ever had to cope with that problem. We frequently hear references to the huge numbers but an increase is reflected in this Supplementary Estimate. Many of these, as can easily be gleaned from the figures, are new applicants, persons who have not held qualification certificates before and this is directly due to the cessation of emigration. The latest figures available show that the inward movement of passenger traffic was greater than the outward movement. That is the only yardstick that has been used.

Some Deputies went so far as to say that we should be ashamed of the amounts we are paying. The insinuation always is that somebody else has a tremendous social conscience while the Minister has none. I do not think that is the answer. I believe I have as keen a social conscience as anybody else. Deputy Fitzpatrick said that the amounts given were immediately eroded by the increase in the cost of living which would suggest that we are barely keeping step with the cost of living. I do not deny that the consumer price index has been rising for a long time but we have not been just trying to keep step with that. Between 1957 and 1971 the cost of living increased by approximately 80 per cent, which is a huge increase, but the increase in social welfare benefits over that period was almost 300 per cent. Even in the shorter term, from August, 1969, to August, 1971, the cost of living increased by 18 per cent and the increase in social welfare benefits was 39 per cent. Each successive increase was considerably more than would have been justified by the increase in the cost of living. This rate of progress, if maintained and accelerated, would bring us to a reasonably high standard of social welfare payments.

We have a few important changes in the making in social welfare but I should like to point out to those who talked about restructuring the whole social welfare system and made comparisons with Northern Ireland, with the UK and with countries of the EEC that the number and types of persons covered by the social welfare umbrella at present compares favourably with any country in the world. It is simply a question of rates. People talk about a major job of restructuring or a new code. We have this under examination and there is a research unit at the moment dealing with two specific points which I shall come to in a moment. I shall have an opportunity of discussing this on the debate on the EEC next week. I hope to have a very positive and definite readjustment of our social welfare benefits to bring them more in line with other countries with which I hope we will be associated in the years ahead. I welcome the opportunity of doing this.

Everybody knows well that, irrespective of what our social conscience may demand, there is always the limitation of the resources available to us. It is all very well to say we should have a social welfare budget. I would not be against that at all. However, other people want a housing budget or a budget for roads, education or health. These are all essential services and we know that millions and millions and millions of pounds would be necessary to do the things we would like to do under all these headings. That money is just not there unless we try to take it from people who already feel they are distributing a very high percentage of their incomes. It is nonsense to talk about 5 per cent holding 71 per cent of the wealth of the country. It is a nice argument to trot out but it is just not right. The redistribution of national wealth at present in relation to the number of people in productive employment is excellent. It is a question of getting the necessary resources to do the things all of us would like to see done under the heading of social welfare. We can identify these very easily. Nowadays you never have an examination; it is always an examination in depth. One could do an examination in five minutes and say double this, double that and add so much to that. We know where extra benefits are required.

(Cavan): Some of the people we are talking about could not stand against a wall They would fall.

Deputy Corish referred to the home assistance scheme. I want to assure him, in passing, that when I made that statement I made it in all sincerity. I hope that the time in which I can take over home assistance as a national assistance scheme, more comprehensive than it is at present, will be counted in months rather than in years.

That is my question last week.

That is something on which my Department are working very hard at present. The old stigma of home assistance lingers on but it has many of the qualities of a good scheme. One of these is, as I have said before, that it is a fire brigade type of service which rapidly reaches a particular person. Due to the local knowledge of the officers who investigate the claim, it is possible to make quick disbursements to people under this scheme. That is an element of the scheme I should like to retain always, irrespective of any wider scope I may give it and any improvements that may be affected in it. I should also like this scheme to apply in cases where persons already have certain social welfare benefits which are inadequate for a particular time or a longer period to meet their legitimate requirements.

Deputy Corish mentioned home assistance being paid while there is an appeal pending.

No, for the record, that is probably a slip of the tongue. I was concerned with unemployment assistance and sickness benefit.

That is the point on which I was about to correct the Deputy.

I did not say home assistance. I said sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance.

It does not apply to sickness benefit.

It does, of course.

No. In the case of disability benefit—I stand subject to correction—we do not deduct.

I beg the Minister's pardon. I thought he was on something else. I am talking about the delay in decisions.

I am talking about deducting when the appeal is upheld. We do not do that in the case of disability benefit. The question of a bureau——

What about unemployment benefit?

In the case of UB, there are deductions all right.

Would you not consider paying these people until the final decision was made on the basis of their being innocent until proved guilty?

It is a question of whether they are entitled to draw two benefits at the same time.

They would not be.

It is a small point and I will certainly consider it. There are many small anomalies that are always worthy of consideration, as the Deputy himself pointed out.

Somebody suggested the setting up of a bureau in order to give a better information service and to secure greater expedition in dealing with cases. This is a matter I am concerned with at the present time. The only thing I would say to those who advocate an information or service bureau is that this bureau would be visited by Deputies and others seeking to get the benefits. I am not for one moment saying that it might not be useful because certain things are under consideration at present with a view to expediting decisions. I would again like to remind the House that most of the complaints arise from persons who are not qualified.

What does the Minister mean by "not qualified"?

Persons who have one stamp less than the number required. They are the persons who do the most writing and the most complaining and who have their case dramatised in every possible way. Even today I had personal correspondence from a man who should have 26 stamps and has only 25, asking could I do something for him. He is not qualified and he may write a dozen letters to TDs but nobody can do anything; the legal requirement is not fulfilled. Most of the complaints ventilated are in respect of this type of case.

If a decision is made locally that a person does not qualify, the matter is referred to the Department for decision.

The question of deserted wives came in for a good deal of discussion. The figures are interesting. We are paying more than we anticipated. The number is greater than was realised. Deputy Cooney said that was regrettable, and I agree. At 11th February, 1972, the number of deserted wife allowances being paid was 1,666. Of 2,553 claims decided, 1,766 were awarded and 787 were rejected and there were some 100 allowances terminated during the period for various reasons—death—the deserted wife becoming widowed—and occasionally the desertion ceases. We are cautious about the investigation of these cases but it is obvious that we have not been unduly stringent in our examination of these cases, as we are sometimes accused of being. We have, indeed, in the short time that the scheme has been in operation, granted allowances which had to be withdrawn subsequently. I am not giving that as an excuse. As I said at the time the Bill came in, we are anxious to err on the side of generosity, because this is a delicate area of investigation, rather than to be unduly strict. I propose to reduce the age from 50 to 40.

Are rural Deputies' wives included?

Deputy Finn referred to the limit of 50p a day. It is not used as a yardstick in a means test. It is strictly and solely used as a measure of the extent and significance of temporary or casual employment the claimant may have at a particular time. The Deputy was critical of the fact that the limit was not increased. The figure used in England for that purpose is less than that used here. There it is 6s 8d. We have increased it from 5s to 6s 8d and later to 10s. Where a person has casual employment one must ascertain whether that person is available for employment or is entitled to pay insurance contributions.

There is no question of that.

It is not used as a means test. I am trying to wind up in the few minutes left me. I will come to the matters raised by the Deputy and will answer them.

The means test for old age pension is a matter that came in for an airing once again. Those of us who have been members of old age pension committees know that the means test is distasteful in many ways but it is a question of making a certain amount of money go as far as possible and, as I have said so often before, if I had the £9 million or £10 million necessary to remove the means test, I would prefer first to double the amount for those who have the pension rather than to remove the means test. It is frequently pointed out that there may be two men living side by side, one who has been a ne'er do well all his life, who gets the pension without any trouble, whereas the other man who has been thrifty and hard working and has accumulated money, cannot get the pension. This is a problem that is always with us in Social Welfare. We must make provision for the weaker people irrespective of how they arrived at that condition.

In the case of a means test for children's allowance, we are at the moment and have been for a long time, examining the question of introducing selectivity into the payment of children's allowance. I agree with Deputy Corish that there are many people getting children's allowance who frequently forget to draw it. It is probably only a nuisance to them in so far as it is subject to income tax. They would prefer not to get it. However, there are people who do not pay income tax and who are in receipt of children's allowance and who could very well do without it. It is a very big payment. In regard to the Supplementary Estimate before the House, one of the most interesting features, to which no Deputy referred, is that the number of children has gone up considerably. We always refer to a figure coming up to a million. That is what the figure was. It has now gone well over a million and that has been noticeable in the past year. The actual number of children at the moment is 1,012,607. The figure used to be considerably under one million.

Deputy Finn suggested a scheme, in which I have always been interested— Deputy Michael Pat Murphy used to refer to it—namely, the provision of some form of well-paid work instead of unemployment assistance. He suggested three days per week. I should like to tell him that this is not a new suggestion; in fact, I had it examined before I was appointed Minister for Social Welfare. When I was in the Office of Public Works I remember a Minister telling me that if I had time to spare I should examine the possibility of providing work instead of the dole.

I have worked out this to the point where unit cards could be issued with the signing form requiring the person to perform a certain unit of work. However, any such work would have to be in addition to work carried out on any county council or corporation programme. Otherwise we would only be displacing people who are employed already——

(Cavan): Many of the people who are getting the dole are not able to work.

I agree and I hope the national assistance scheme will meet that problem.

This might be selective. It might mean that a man with the calloused hands would be asked to do work which the bank clerk would not be asked to do.

It would be necessary to offer suitable employment. It would be very difficult to get a tailor, for instance, to work on the roads. These are only some of the difficulties in this matter, all of which I have come across when I investigated the problem. However, it is a suggestion that is worth examination. We must ask the question why we have to pay so many people for being unemployed when so much necessary work requires to be done in the same area.

(Cavan): Last year when the dole was withdrawn from many people they went on home assistance, and rightly so. This proves they were not able to work.

There were not so many people involved. However, one of the things we learned last year was that work was not the answer for many of our people, and this was a useful lesson. Many people pointed out that if work were available across the road they could not avail of it.

I should like to reply to the comment of Deputy Spring regarding local committees. I think if I were not Minister for Social Welfare there would not be any local sub-committees because some members of my own party frequently ask me why we do not abolish them. I was a member of such a committee at one time and we did a fair and honest job. I think such committees are useful because I do not believe that officials throughout the country should always have everything their own way. It is not a bad thing to have local people in a position where they can know what is happening.

I am a member of a sub-committee and at different times we have made recommendations but they have never been accepted.

It is not the job of individuals on the sub-committee to make representations on behalf of people. The committee have a job to see if a proper assessment is made of a person's means. It is their job to see that meetings are held regularly, decisions taken and cases submitted immediately so that the books can be issued to people. Some committees do an excellent job in this regard.

(Cavan): Deputy Enright's point is that the social welfare officer's recommendation is always accepted.

Would the Minister not accept that if the social welfare officer recommends a certain person then the book should be sent to that person without any delay?

There is another way of looking at the question of the social welfare officer's decision always being accepted. Some committees invariably grant the full pension to all applicants but a good and conscientious committee will not do that. As a result, such a committee gain a certain reputation with the Department and are accepted as a responsible committee.

(Cavan): The Donegal committee must be unique.

Not all of them, but some of them are good and they do a useful job. One Deputy observed that we should not take notice of anonymous letters. I am not enamoured of the person who fails to put his name to a letter which sometimes is actuated by a desire for revenge or out of spite. Unfortunately many of the anonymous reports which we receive prove to be well-founded——

The late Seán Lemass once said that every time he got a letter he immediately looked to see if it was signed. If it was not signed he tore it up.

I would recommend that to all Ministers and Deputies.

(Cavan): There are a few anonymous letters going round the Border at the moment.

The letters to which I refer are usually sent to the social welfare officer and they point out that a certain person is in receipt of dole allowance while he is in constant employment. The pension officer will make discreet inquiries and nine times out of ten he finds the report is correct.

There is nothing odd about that. The anonymous letters that I get are correct nine times out of ten but I tear them up. The Minister has only one minute left before the Dáil adjourns and I would ask him to deal with the Employment Period Order.

Despite the opportunity given in this Supplementary Estimate to deal with many topics, I was not allowed sufficient time to wind up the debate but I was subjected to cross-questioning across the House. However, we can carry the matter over until tomorrow if Deputies wish.

I would ask the Minister to deal with the Employment Period Order.

This matter is being considered and a decision will have to be taken fairly soon.

(Cavan): The Minister should make the decision this year and not make a mistake again.

I do not think the Deputy need worry this year.

Does the Minister wish to have the Estimate put?

I wish to have the Estimate put, but I should like to tell Deputies not to lose any sleep over the Employment Period Order.

Vote put and agreed to.
Estimate reported and agreed to.